ALEXANDER SCRIABIN (1872-1915): Complete Symphonies for Piano 4-Hands and 2 Pianos - No. 1, Op. 26 and Reverie, Op. 24 (transcr. Alexander Winkler [1863-1938]), No. 2, Op.29 (transcr. Vassily Kalafati [1869-1942]), No. 3, Op. 43 and No. 4, Op. 54 transcr. Léon Conus [1871-1944]) and No. 5, Op.69 (transcr. Leonid Sabaneyev [1881-1968]), Fantasy, Op. posth.
Catalogue Number: 08Y025
Label: Da Vinci Classics
Description: This fascinating set is intrinsically enjoyable, though its principal value lies less in any new insights about Scriabin's orchestral works than the light it shines on some important figures in Russian music around the turn of the 20th century who were part of the extraordinary creative milieu that developed in the region at that time. Despite having been considered major composers, pianists, and pedagogues during their lifetimes, they fell into almost complete obscurity until recently. Scriabin’s first two symphonies are large, multi-movement Romantic works, conservative even for their time and offering no clues as to the revolutionary nature of the composer’s later output. Listening to the First in particular, one might be forgiven for thinking that music history had yet to progress beyond Wagner and Tchaikovsky - aside from the choral and vocal finale, in which Scriabin’s text espouses the idea of music as a means of spiritual transformation which was omnipresent in his subsequent output up to the unfinished Mysterium. Winkler was a Leschetizky pupil and one of Prokofiev’s teachers, so he clearly knew his way around the piano; as composer he was a Romantic conservative (you can hear his large, typically Russian-romantic Viola Sonata on 08N056). His arrangement of the symphony is just that; a thoroughly proficient, workmanlike arrangement for utility purposes, largely unimaginative and frequently falling into the trap of seeking orchestral weight and sonority through incessant heavy tremolandi. The bones of the piece are there, but it doesn’t sound like authentic 2-piano music conceived as such, so one misses the orchestration one, and without the voices the finale sounds more like a tacked-on addendum than ever. It’s a reasonable wager that the two-piano arrangement that Scriabin played with Goldenweiser to seek recognition and publication for the work did not sound much like this, an impression borne out by the inclusion here of the original Scriabin 2-piano work, the Fantasy, which presents an interchange of "piano" and "orchestral" ideas with no attempt whatsoever at quasi-orchestral density of texture. In consequence, the piece - which Scriabin originally conceived for piano and orchestra - sounds "thin" in texture, but also like a well-argued piece of 2-piano music; and when, decades later, Rozhdestvensky orchestrated it, it presented no difficulty to extract an entirely convincing orchestral part from the 2-piano texture. The Greek-Russian Kalafati was a more significant composer (he has been relatively fortunate in recent years on disc; see 09W001 [his symphony] and 03W006a). His arrangement of the similarly large, Romantic, thematically cyclic, more structurally traditional (and arguably better) 2nd Symphony also makes a better case as 2-piano music, emphasising textures that are more effective, less pianistically facile, and considerably harder to play. Konyús (Conus) tackled The Divine Poem and The Poem of Ecstasy. A distinguished pianist-composer and author of a significant pedagogical book, he renders these more succinct scores with more attention to recreating the atmospheres of the originals in pianistic terms. The 3-movement No.3 actually resembles a 2-piano sonata a good deal of the time, and No.4 evokes the original with clear reference to Scriabin’s own solo piano writing of the time of composition. In terms of pianistic creativity, Sabaneyev emerges as the clear winner - not especially surprising, as he was a major composer in his own right. His stunning transcription of Prometheus approaches the exuberantly colourful and kaleidoscopic original in excitement, sounds pianistically idiomatic, and brings out the clear affinities of the work with Scriabin’s late piano works, especially the 9th and 10th Sonatas, and Vers la flamme.